Mavis Batey: from codebreaker to campaigner for historic parks and gardens
- Written by Sarah Jackson
Mavis Batey, literary and garden historian, talks to Sarah Jackson about how she became interested in historic designed landscapes, and involved in campaigning to conserve them.
Mavis Batey has always been one for a cause. As Honorary Secretary, and then President, of the Garden History Society (GHS) for almost 30 years, she has been at the forefront of the movement to protect historic designed landscapes, helping to ensure the survival of many important gardens for the future.
Born Mavis Lever on 5 May 1921, the young Mavis grew up in Norbury and was educated at a convent in Croydon. She was deep into studies on German Romanticism at University College, London when the Second World War broke out. Realising the sobering connection between her subject and Nazi nationalism, she abandoned her studies and applied to the Foreign Office to do war work instead.
Code-breaking at Bletchley
Mavis was sent to Bletchley Park, the centre of code-breaking operations which were crucial to the allied victory in the war. Here she met and married her husband Keith in 1942, and together they kept the secret of their war-time intelligence work, forbidden like everyone else involved from speaking about it for the next 30 years.
Since her involvement at Bletchley became known, Mavis has been in great demand from researchers wanting inside information. Actress Kate Winslet wanted to know what it was like to be a woman at Bletchley for her part in the film Enigma. Most recently Mavis has been helping researchers to establish how much of the action in Ian Fleming's James Bond novels was based on his career in naval intelligence.
After the war, the Bateys had a spell in Canada, where Keith was in the Commonwealth Relations Office. A transfer brought them back to England, and in the 1960s they moved to Oxford, where Keith was appointed Secretary of the University Chest and later Treasurer of the Oxford college, Christ Church.